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Home > Movies > 31 Monsters #13: The Cyclops

31 Monsters #13: The Cyclops

October 13th, 2009

On those rare childhood days when I didn’t want to grow up to be a paleontologist, I wanted to grow up to be Ray Harryhausen. He was one of the few motion picture special effects artists to become a brand name. While he never appeared above the title, there was never any doubt that Harryhausen and his stop-motion animated monsters were the stars of the show.

Ray was an acolyte of early movie wizard Willis O’Brien, the pioneering artist responsible for the creatures in the original versions of The Lost World and King Kong. After assisting O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young, Harryhausen embarked on an epic, twelve film collaboration with producer Charles Schneer ranging from 1955’s It Came from Beneath the Sea to 1981’s Clash of the Titans.

Many fans claim that Harryhausen’s masterwork was Jason and the Argonauts, which concluded with a duel between live-action sailors and seven stop-motion skeletons. From a technical standpoint, they may be right. However, I find Jason a little slow and ponderous as a film.

For my money, his greatest motion picture was 1958’s The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Very loosely based on the Middle Eastern folk tales, it starred Kerwin Matthews as the sailing hero, Kathryn Grant (Bing Crosby’s wife) as his beloved princess, and the eminently hissable Torin Thatcher as the dark magician Sokurah.

Sinbad first encountered Sokurah on the island of Colossa as the wizard fled from one of the native cyclopses. The sailor and his men drove off the monster long enough to save Sokurah, but not his magic lamp. Unwitting of the magician’s schemes, the Caliph of Baghdad invited him into the palace. But when the ruler refused to mount an expedition back to Colossa to recover the lamp, Sokurah shrank his daughter, knowing that the only cure required the shell of the gigantic roc birds that nested on the island.

Many adventures ensued, and the film packed a lot into its 88 minutes. There were treacherous mutineers, screaming demons, a friendly genie, a fire-breathing dragon, another dueling skeleton and, of course, the aforementioned cyclopses.

cyclops

The goat-legged cyclops demonstrated the characteristic gait of many of Harryhausen’s humanoid monsters, a distinctive arms-back, knees-forward shuffle that was allegedly easier to animate. This walk had the side effect of giving the creatures a personal touch not often seen in today’s special effects epics, which typically involve hundreds of faceless computer animators.

Taking a page from Homer’s Odyssey, the cyclops trapped Sinbad and his men in a cave and threatened to roast them on a spit. Fortunately, the heroic sailor also knew his Greek literature and blinded the beast before leading it off a cliff.

During the climax, a second cyclops–distinguished by a pair of horns atop its head–showed up just long enough to wrestle with the dragon that Sokurah loosed on the fleeing heroes. It didn’t fare any better than its cousin.

Sixteen years later, Harryhausen and Sinbad were back for seconds in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. The giant centaur in that one was a cyclops too!

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